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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Concert Review: A Feast With no Stuffing

Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Score! Jaap von Zweden on the podium.
Photo by Hans van der Woerde, courtesy IMG Artists.
Sometimes in the middle of a season, you need to hear a fresh approach. That maxim may have been in the mind of New York Philharmonic administrators when they booked Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden for two weeks this year. Mr. van Zweden has garnered awards in his run as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He brings a brisk clarity to the music, and as Wednesday night's concert showed, the players responded with alacrity.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

The six-hour echt Deutsch Wagner comedy returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The South African tenor Johan Botha returns in Die Meistersinger.
Photo © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera courtesy the Metropolitan Opera Press Department.
Of the ten major Richard Wagner operas, only one is a comedy. And it's the six-hour Meistersinger: a celebration of all things German.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Opera Review: Fezzes Are Cool

Juilliard Opera takes on Rossini's Il Turco in Italia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hyesang Park as Fiorilla in Il Turco in Italia.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Juilliard School.
The Juilliard Opera opened its 2014 season this week with a new production of Rossini's Il Turco in Italia, a genial comedy of manners that never caught fire with the opera-going public of the composer's day. Turco was viewed as an inferior sequel to the composer's wildly successful L'Italiana in Algeri and its libretto, chronicling the bed-hopping adventures of a licentious and married woman at a resort near Naples was considered immoral in Rossini's day. And it is a rarity: this was the first fully staged New York performance of the score since a New York City Opera production from 1978.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Concert Review: The Weight of the War

Jaap van Zweden leads the Shostakovich Eighth
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jaap van Zweden returned to the New York Philharmonic.
Photo © 2014 The Dallas Symphony Orchestra
The Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden has built a steady reputation in recent years, both with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (where he serves as music director) and a series of yearly guest visits to the New York Philharmonic. On Friday afternoon, Mr. van Zweiden led the latter orchestra in a program of Mozart and Shostakovich, contrasting the former's Sinfonia Concertante with the latter's heavyweight Symphony No. 8.

Concert Review: Providence, Prokofiev and Pirates

The San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Michael Tilson Thomas.
Photo © 2013 San Francisco Symphony.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra closed their two-night 2014 stand at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night. The evening offered pretty much everything this ensemble does well. There was new music. There was a surprisingly gentle 20th century concerto. And there was an almost obligatory Big Work: the unexpurgated score of Maurice Ravel's ballet Daphnis et Chloë.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Concert Review: California's Dark

MTT and the San Francisco Symphony return with Mahler's Seventh.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mahler groove: conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.
Photo © 2014 San Francisco Symphony.
When Gustav Mahler premiered his Symphony No. 7 in E minor in 1906, he set a series of problems and riddles that too often, baffle today's conductors, listeners and critics. On Wednesday night, the San Francisco Symphony returned to Carnegie Hall to play this difficult and uniquely weird five-movement work, under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Superconductor Interview: Jacques Lacombe

A Q & A with the leader of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jacques Lacombe.
Photo by Fred Stucker © 2014 New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Jacques Lacombe is always in motion. The energetic French Canadian conductor is in his penultimate year leading the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the Garden State's most significant professional ensemble in a bold season that ranges from rare works by New Jersey-born composers to a deep exploration of Shakespeare as an inspiration for 20th century composers. The orchestra is also getting ready to release a new recording to join its thunderous Carmina Burana. Things are looking up.

The NJSO is unique in that it is an orchestra that is effectively "on tour" for most of its season, playing programs in Newark, Bergen, New Brunswick, Princeton and even Red Bank. But their home is still Newark, at the stately, modern New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) right downtown on Center Street.

In a telephone interview with Superconductor, Mr. Lacombe discussed the benefits and challenges of his position, and how working out of Newark, New Jersey might be better than you think.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Concert Review: Everest, Part One

Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
Photo by Felix Broede for Deutsche Grammophon/UMG.
If the modern piano recital can be equated to the climbing of mountains, then Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier (Clavier simply means "keyboard") represents one of the steepest, highest and most dangerous slopes of all. For Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the iconoclastic French pianist whose mentors included Pierre Boulez, Thursday night's performance of Book I of this massive keyboard work at Carnegie Hall was the equivalent of a climb up Everest--without oxygen or Sherpa guides.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Concert Review: Stepping Into the Big Time

Associate Conductor Case Scaglione leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
On the Case--Scaglione at the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2014 The New York Philharmonic.
The position of associate conductor at a major symphony orchestra is not a glamorous job. They lead offstage brass ensembles (and choruses) in big works like Mahler's Resurrection and Strauss' Alpensinfonie. They run children's concerts. But once in a while, they take the main stage and lead an ensemble like the New York Philharmonic. For this week's subscription concerts (heard Wednesday night at the soon-to-be-renamed Avery Fisher Hall) it was the turn of NY Phil associate Case Scaglione to step onto the podium for a trio of 20th century classics.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Concert Review: The Prodigal Prodigy

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Riccardo Chailly. Photo © 2014 Decca Classics/UMG
Sometimes the close historical connection between a composer and a major orchestra can lead to very special results. Such was the case Monday night at the soon-to-be-renamed Avery Fisher Hall, where Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in an evening dominated by the music of Felix Mendelssohn. The Gewandhaus is Germany's oldest orchestra, and Mendelssohn served as its music director from 1835 until his death in 1847.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Superconductor Interview: Thomas Crawford

The conductor of the American Classical Orchestra takes on Bach's Mass in B Minor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Left: conductor Thomas Crawford. Right: Johann Sebastian Bach.
The conductor performs Bach's Mass in B Minor on Nov. 15.
Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor is one of the great choral epics, a setting of the full Catholic mass by this Lutheran composer. It is also a textually troubled work, written over a long period of the composer's life and never performed by Bach himself. For Thomas Crawford, music director of the American Classical Orchestra, taking on Bach's monumental Mass is the achievement of a lifetime. Conductor and ensemble will perform the work on November 15 at Alice Tully Hall.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Concert Review: It's a Kind of Magic

The Orchestra of St. Luke's opens its 2014 at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pablo Heras-Casado. Photo by Josep Molina © 2014 Harmonia Mundi.

The Orchestra of St. Luke's marks four decades this year. They remain one of this city's most versatile ensembles, at home in everything from Mozart to Metallica. For their 2014 season opener at Carnegie Hall, principal conductor Pablo Heras-Casado designed a program that illustrated his ensemble's flexibility, featuring four different pieces in a jarring juxtaposition of styles. In the end, this program's combination of Purcell, Tchaikovsky, Dallapiccola and Mendelssohn, four different composers from different historical periods, proved unique and ultimately, satisfying.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Concert Review: Rowing With the Current

Joyce DiDonato sails into Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We can talk about Joyce: La DiDonato in a publicity still.
Image courtesy Warner Music Group.
When Joyce DiDonato last gave a recital in New York, she sang on the upper level of a metal shop located next to Brooklyn's heavily polluted Gowanus Canal. At Tuesday night's Carnegie Hall recital, the second performance of her 2014 Perspectives series, the diva was in a much more opulent setting. However, waterways--in this case the canals of Venice, Italy--continued to play an important role.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Concert Review: The Genesis Effect

The Oratorio Society of New York plays Haydn's Creation.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Kent Tritle leading the Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Tim Dwight © 2014 The Oratorio Society of New York. 
Franz Joseph Haydn is a pivotal figure in music. The father of the symphony and the string quartet, Haydn is too often pigeon-holed as a doddering relic, a composer who churned out similar works to keep a rich patron happy and whose music remains irrelevant today. With their season-opening performance of The Creation ("Die Schöpfung") on Monday night at Carnegie Hall, Kent Tritle and the Oratorio Society of New York showed that the truth about Haydn is something very different.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District

The Met brings the Shostakovich opera back for the first time in 14 years.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's no moon...A scene from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
Photo by Winnie Klotz © 2000 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives the opera that outraged Josef Stalin, triggered the Soviet artistic purges of the 1930s, and forced Shostakovich to withdraw his Fourth Symphony.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Opera Review: Three Chords and the Truth

Isango Ensemble presents a souped-up Magic Flute.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano, arranger, ruler of the heavens: Pauline Malefane as the Queen of the Night
in Isango Ensemble's The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo.
Photo courtesy New Victory Theater/Shakespeare Theater Company.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute received a decidedly African makeover this week, with the arrival of Isango Ensemble's touring company at the New Victory Theater. (The performances, which run through November 9, are in association with Carnegie Hall's ongoing South Africa-oriented Ubuntu! festival.) Retitled The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo, this performance repurposed the opera's original Masonic parable as an exuberant celebration of South African township culture, with the score performed on...marimbas.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Concert Review: The Five-Headed Dragon

The Philadelphia Orchestra Resurrects the Mahler Second.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Photo by Marco Borggreve from the conductor's official site.
Half a century ago, a young conductor named Leonard Bernstein brought the symphonies of Gustav Mahler to the attention of concert-goes around the world. Since then, Mahler's symphonies, and particularly his Symphony No. 2 (known by the unofficial nickname Resurrection) have been a touchstone of the podium. On Halloween night, Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin staked his claim as a Mahlerian on Bernstein's old stomping grounds: the Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall.

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